Dad diary - Baby fun, no sleep, broken exhausts and football!

Chances of an easy day today, nil!

Bro's car broken so late night drive last night was a 230 mile round trip to pick him up. Got to Sunderland turn off of a1 and my exhaust fell off.
30 minutes later and contractor for RAC pulled off back box and said it was ready to drive off.
Who'd have thought a pug 307 had an "economy mode"

Drove better without a back box on it I reckon, certainly did ok on diesel.
Finally got home at 3.40am, managed to grab some shut eye, up at 8am to try and catch an early slot at the exhaust centre... will cost me £50, hope they can fix it whilst I'm there and there isn't a big queue to get it in?

Need to get back with sprog2, so I can get her fed. What will be the odds on her having a dump whilst we are at the garage... 2-1 on is my wager.

Need to be in Liverpool by 5pm - footy night. Hope Jay Spearing gets a game/goal.
Inbetween all this, I've got a carpet to lay - no chance - and feeding of the clan here.
Once again, it is a wonderful sunny day in Lancashire, I hope it's shining where you are too.

Why won't the Charity Commission take action against illegal charity doorstep clothing collections?

Case summary:
- A charity post a clothing collection bag (ignoring a clear notice not to post bags/flyers through my letterbox), I return it to the agent, who then throws it in my garden when I have gone back inside the house.
- I rang my local council to ask what can be done, the council inform me that the charity (and it's collection partner company) do not have a license to make collections.
- I then rang the charity itself, who told me that they agree 100% with my complaint, as "it doesn't put our charity in a good light" - I am told that a meeting is planned that day with the owner of the collection company and this matter will be raised with him and the collection will not go ahead.
- The next day, the charity's van drives down our street looking for bags to collect, I note down the registration and ring the charity again. The same lady at the charity confirms that the van is not one of the collection company's vans, but their own van doing the unlicensed collection.
- The police stop the van and issue the driver a warning about posting bags through letterboxes, whilst the council's licensing officer is out around the area trying to catch the charity van in the act of an unlicensed, illegal collection.
- Via this website, people have been kindly posting that collections are taking place all over the country, by the same charity. In the area next to mine, I am told that just days later, another unlicensed collection by the same charity is taking place.
- In a later development, the charity instruct a solicitor to act. The solicitor tries to obtain my own personal details via a third party, against the Data Protection Act. This attempt fails, as does the solicitor's attempts to have frugal ways website closed down, both permanently and/or whilst the charity's complaint is investigated.

This is how the Charity commission fail to act:

- I rang them to register a complaint and am told, "Unless we receive around 3000 complaints of the same thing from the same charity it's highly unlikely that any action will be taken"
- A complaint in writing is sent to the charity commission.
- Weeks later, I receive the following email from the charity commission's "compliance investigations unit, Liverpool"

"Although it is some weeks since you sent this to the Charity Commission, I would like to assure you that your concerns have been brought to the attention of the Commissions Compliance team about the manner in which the charity is operating.  We have received a number of complaints about this charity and are currently in the process of looking into these matters.  Part of the our role is to evaluate causes for concern, and if substantiated, ensure they are rectified, either through the use of statutory powers or by providing regulatory guidance and advice to the charity trustees."

This was last month, so yesterday, via twitter @chtycommission I asked if there was any progress on their investigations into unlicensed, illegal doorstep collections by charities and in charity's names.
The commission replied, "See FRSB website who mostly handle charity fundraising complaints. If its not a charity & claims 2 b, tell trading standards." (
The fundraising standards board website can be seen when clicking on this link)

So it appears that now the Charity commission are not investigating what their own "compliance investigation unit" are telling people they do?
I asked why I was being referred to another public body when the charity commission themselves state they were investigating?
They pointed me to read their -
Approach and regulation page on the commission's website

The Charity Commission need to provide action or answers on the following:

* The charity concerned have admitted collecting without a license. The charity also stated that it was their collection company partners (a private company) that were carrying out the collections, when it was not - Why does the commission need "3000 similar complaints" before it will even investigate?
Would a quick phone call to the charity concerned, myself, my local council's licensing officer, our local police, not confirm this to be the case?

* Ignoring a complaint is one thing, but telling the person complaining that the commission is investigating and then telling them a month later, that it is not something they would investigate, really isn't good enough.
The Charity Commission are responsible in this case, and here's why (I have made bold, parts I think are relevant):

"Our aim is to provide the best possible regulation of charities to increase their effectiveness and levels of public confidence in them"
We also follow the principles of best regulatory practice, ensuring our actions are proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted" (Source: Charity commission website "Approach to regulation" page)

"The Policy and Effectiveness Directorate develops the policies and plans that ensure that the Commission is an effective, efficient and modern regulator [continued...] The Directorate also includes the Corporate Affairs team who communicate and engage with the sector, the media, parliamentarians and the public to make sure public trust and confidence in charities remains high."

"Legal and Compliance Directorate - Our Compliance Directorate proactively identifies and investigates allegations of abuse in charities, taking firm and robust action where allegations of misuse or maladministration are found."
"Alongside ensuring charities comply with their legal requirements, our Compliance teams also work with individual charities to help them rectify mistakes and put robust systems in place to ensure problems don’t reoccur" (Source: Charity commision website "Careers" page)

Some of the "Careers" available with the Charity commission include:

* "Case Officers who assess complaints and carry out compliance visits to charities"
* "Specialist Officers dealing with areas such as resolving disputes in charities, fundraising abuse and governance problems"
* "Outreach Officers working with the sector to prevent abuse taking place in the first place"
* "Legal Advisers providing specialist advice on legal compliance, policy work and running litigation cases"

The Charity commission also have, "The Charity Information team ensures that charities are transparent to their beneficiaries, donors, and the wider public"

I would suggest that I have more than proven my case that the Charity commission should act upon an admitted unlicensed collection, with immediate effect.
The Charity commission will receive £29 Million pounds of taxpayer's money to fund their work in 2011/2012.
I would ask the commission why it passes complaints to other public bodies?
I would ask the commission why it is not "transparent" and is not concerned with unlicensed, illegal doorstep collections by charities and by collection companies (making huge profits) using a charity's name?

Above all, I would ask the commission why it will not do the job it's own website/documentation/careers information states that it should be and is, doing?

You can add to and keep up with our discussions on this issue and others on twitter @frugal_ways


The Charity commission's twitter team have now read this post, their response;

* Sending complaints about fundraising to a totally seperate taxpayer funded body - No comment
* What action is being taken (In general) regarding illegal, unlicensed clothing collections? - No comment
* Why does it take "Around 3000 complaints" to be reported before an investigation is started? - No comment
* Case officers, specialist officers, outreach officers, legal advisers, all employed by the Charity commission, why have they not done anything about this problem? - No comment

I rang the Charity commission this morning, they have just returned my call.

The issue of unlicensed doorstep clothing collections is draining resources at local level.
The police's time, council licensing officers, councillors themselves, trading standards staff (all over the country), even refuse collectors and contributing to landfill, all of which YOU pay for through your taxes.
This issue I am told by the Charity commission, is being dealt with, although the investigating officer couldn't give me any details as to wether the commission had been in touch with the charity, or what action had been taken, just assurances.

I have to say, I'm inclined not to believe them. The reason is, that since my complaint these collections are still happening all over the country.
Surely if the regulator had got involved and had discussions with the trustees of the charity that was collecting illegally, then they would be stopped or licenses would be applied for, before anymore collections took place?

After being told that clothing companies collect on behalf of the charities, I stopped that excuse in its tracks, as here we have a clear case of the charity themselves admitting it was their own van collecting without a license.

Next I questioned how the commission was "transparent" when it wouldn't give me any information about the procedures and what had been done so far?

The investigating officer then suggested that it wasn't always part of the commission's remit with regard to clothing collections.... so why are the charity commission a regulator and why do they pay thousands of pounds to employ staff to do just that (as listed on their website)?

Then it was suggested that if the collections are illegal, then it's a police matter.
The police refer me to the council, the council inform me they can only bring a civil action, the licensing officer puts a civil action to the council, but finances dictate that action is not taken, which would cost more money from local council funding.
The regulator should be acting in this case and others. It is not.
I questioned why taxpayer's are paying out £29 Million pounds this year for a charity regulator that is doing nothing?

I was then informed that in this case, what I had told the investigating officer wasn't all in the written complaint made to the commission.
It was agreed that I would write to them once again with the details.

If you have received any charity clothing collection bags or flyers through your door, here is the following action you can take:

  • Ring your local council, ask for your licensing office and ask if the charity/clothing collection company have a license to carry out doorstep collections
  • If they do, then the issue of clothing collections excessive profits should be raised with your local councillor, ask why the license was granted when the charity receive very little of the money generated by the collection.
  • If they don't have a license, then contact the Charity commission in writing, via their website, registering a complaint.

As the charity commission officer told me, the "collecting evidence stage takes about 6 months" - the more the public raise this issue, the sooner the regulator/charity commission will get off its backside and actually DO something about it!


Whilst preparing to place a freedom of information act request with the Charity commission, I came across information already published under the FOI act, which makes a mockery of the Charity commission's claims to myself, made today, by their investigating officer, that gathering information for a case takes 6 months.

"3. Where the Commission considers it necessary to exercise its own
powers, by conducting a formal inquiry into a charity's activities or
administration, there is no set timescale involved. Each such Inquiry
is conducted for however long is required to complete it, each is
conducted on a case by case basis dependent on the specific
circumstances and nature of concern involved
" (Source: Charity commission freedom of information act response, 10th December 2010)

From the same response, the Charity commission's reply states, "Where allegations of criminal activity are involved, these should be
reported to the Police rather than the Commission"
Also from the same response, the Charity commission states, "Our role as Regulator does not extend to mediating or investigating what are Civil matters, falling to the Courts where they can not be resolved between the parties concerned"

Which leaves just one question of the Charity commission - £29 Million pounds of funding this year, the Charity commission DO NOT deal with criminal matters, they also DO NOT deal with civil matters, exactly what do the charity commission deal with/regulate over?

Are you paying much more than air passenger duty for flight taxes?

I have been making enquiries into flight prices, travelling to the USA.

Many "cheap" flights websites are quoting prices that are not available, they are also quoting prices that are "excluding taxes and fees" - which since 2008 under european law has been illegal for airlines to do!

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that there is no law regarding taxes and fees and how much airlines, travel agents, etc, can charge you!

For example, companies were quoting me £350 for taxes and fees yesterday, for flights to America. Many told me that this was down to air passenger duty and fuel duty being applicable.
So, straight from revenue and customs, have some facts about air passenger duty:

  • Air passenger duty is only applicable when you leave the UK
  • Air passenger duty is not charged for your returning flights
  • Air passenger duty rates can be found on the revenue and customs website here, take a look at section 2.1.2
  • Air passenger duty is charged for USA at band B rates, which ranges between £60 to £120 depending on which class of seat you occupy

So where exactly the travel agents get £350 from is anyone's guess.
ALWAYS ask for a breakdown of the taxes they are charging you BEFORE you buy!

Revenue and Customs tell me, that the air passenger duty is charged to the airline and some airlines do not pass this on to customers - although I've yet to find one that doesn't pass the cost on - different airlines charge different levels.

US Airways charges just £113 for air passenger duty and taxes on their flights to America, Lufthansa charge £368 tax for their flights to America.

A good explanation of what airline taxes and fees are made up of, can be found here, on the Civil Aviation Authority's website.

Complaining to companies using twitter

Firing off an email or letter in writing, can be an effective way to highlight your problems directly with a company.
Facebook groups are another way of course, but increasingly popular is the twitter complaint.

Not just another "group of moaners" using twitter is an individual's way of drawing attention to a problem that might be far more common than a company would have you believe.
Find and "follow" the company concerned, start your question/complaint with @[insert company name] and away you go.

Adding a simple #[insert twitter name] at the end of your question, reveals it in a search.
To view other people's tweets regarding the company concerned, just type #[company name] into the search bar at the top of your twitter screen.

As well as seeing your question/complaint, every other person searching for the same #[company] will also see it.
Companies would have you believe that everything is rosey on their twitter feeds, little anecdotes and the like, similar to a friend.
For a good example of how this is not the case, try searching twitter for #britishgas

In the results I got, there were people waiting in all day for calls that never came, one post/tweet revealed they had been waiting 3 weeks for a promised call back!

Although short posts/tweets are all that's allowed, a few well chosen words can be very effective!

Beware when buying flights/holidays online?

This post could apply to any business, but has come to light now as I search pathetically for flights and or holiday accomodation on the internet.

My aim is simple - to find flights to San francisco and return from Las Vegas. I'll need a hire car as we want to drive down the pacific coast.

Every website search IS monitored - The more you and other people search for flights/holidays the more the price increases

The prices shown on websites are almost NEVER available - 7 websites for flights so far, on all of them the price shown increased significantly once I clicked to book or phoned them up to enquire.
EXAMPLES: - quoting return flights to san francisco for £580 with air france (inc. taxes and fees) - when you click through to air france's website, enter all the details in again, cheapest flight they come up with is £977 per person. - quoted return flights at £415 on cheapflights website, when you click through best price quoted is £235 per person plus taxes and fees. A quick phone call to them reveals that taxes and fees add on £350 to this price, which makes it a total of £585 per person.
They kindly did a quick search for cheapest prices and came back with £694 per person being their best offer. Miles away from the £415 they were quoting via the cheapflights website!
When I had the audacity to question why they were misrepresenting prices to people, they simply denied they were!

When quoted a price, ALWAYS ASK what it includes - I rang an airline directly for a quote, they were £1400 more than the cheapest website price for the same airline. When the lady had worked it all out, the prices the cheap flight websites had quoted were very different from what I had asked for!
I asked to include a seat for sprog2, I was given a price based on sprog2 being on my lap and not in her own seat, 23 hours of flying each way, that's a hell of a long time to be on my knee!
The difference in price for this alone was over £700
The cheap website tickets were also non refundable, nor were they open to be changed.
By this I mean, if a flight is delayed, we would in effect be left stranded and forking out for replacement tickets. If illness strikes and we are unable to travel, then we would lose our money and have to pay for replacement tickets ourselves. With the higher prices charged by the airline direct, the tickets are changable and include a seat for sprog2.

It is an absolute minefield buying a holiday/flights, online, on the phone or at a travel agents.

Is there a single occasion when you want to travel, that isn't either "Peak time" or "School holidays" or "In high demand"?

I'll end this post with a simple fact:
To fly to San francisco, spend 19 days there and fly back from Las Vegas, I have been quoted between £9000 and £12,200 - each one of those quotes tells me that it's inflated prices because of the taxes and the price of fuel (one even told me that crude oil is now at a record of $49 dollars per barrel!)
To fly to Orlando with the same companies, the price drops to £8870 to £12,000 - a stunning saving at best of £130, yet we would be flying thousands of miles and 16 hours LESS, yet saving less than £20 per person.

How does that work then?